Malaysia Airlines plane: 239 feared dead as search for missing Boeing 777 reveals two oil slicks in the Gulf of Thailand

Two passengers on the plane were travelling on stolen passports

Beijing

Flight MH370 to Beijing was, by all accounts, unremarkable until it vanished. A little over two hours out of Kuala Lumpur, as passengers – including five children under six and a group of 24 Chinese artists – attempted to sleep on the overnight "red eye", the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar screens without any indication it had experienced technical problems.

In the Chinese capital, almost six hours went by as friends and families of the 227 passengers on board, from 14 different countries, were told the Malaysia Airlines flight was "delayed". Then, what had been apparent for many hours was finally confirmed yesterday: all the passengers, and 12 crew, were feared dead. The youngest passenger on board was a US citizen, Yan Zhang, aged two.

The only remains of the Boeing 777-200 jet were two oil slicks in the Gulf of Thailand, spotted by the Vietnamese Air Force. One slick off the southern tip of Vietnam was reported to be 12 miles long. They were both said to be consistent with what would be expected from fuel left by a crashed airliner.

According to reports, the flight was "stable" at 35,000ft half way between Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City at around 1.30am before it disappeared off the radar where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand. Sources in China said radar data suggested a "steep and sudden descent" of the aircraft.

 

Malaysia Airlines' chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, said there was no indication that the pilots had sent a distress signal, suggesting whatever happened to the plane occurred quickly. Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam's civil aviation authority, said air traffic officials there never made contact with the plane.

The airliner "lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam's air traffic control", said Lieutenant General Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese Army.

Some 15 aircraft and nine ships were involved in the search for the wreckage yesterday, with the area of the sea operation being enlarged. However, there had been little sign of a crash other than the oil slicks. "We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane," Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, told reporters. "Today, all Malaysians stand in solidarity with those on flight MH370 and their loved ones," said the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak.

Territorial disputes over the South China Sea were temporarily set aside as China dispatched two rescue ships and the Philippines deployed three airforce planes and three navy patrol ships. "In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues," said Lt Gen Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military's Western Command.

The unease surrounding the mysterious crash was increased yesterday by the revelation that two names listed on the flight manifest matched passports reported stolen in Thailand, according to officials in Rome and Vienna. Luigi Maraldi, an Italian man whose name was listed as being on board, was not on the flight, and had reported his passport stolen last August.

The Austrian foreign ministry confirmed that a name listed on the manifest matched an Austrian passport reported stolen two years ago in Thailand. There was only one Austrian on the passenger list: Christian Kozel, aged 30.

Relatives of people on board the plane are surrounded by press as the tragedy unfolds Relatives of people on board the plane are surrounded by press as the tragedy unfolds Meanwhile, relatives of the 152 Chinese nationals waited anxiously for news at the Lido hotel in Beijing, as China's leaders called for speedy and vigorous search and rescue efforts to locate the aircraft. The flight was due to arrive in the city at 6.30am local time yesterday.

President Xi Jinping ordered China's ministry of foreign affairs as well as Chinese embassies and consulates to strengthen contact with departments of relevant countries and pay close attention to the search and rescue work for the plane, the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported. "All-out efforts must be made for any emergency treatment necessary in the aftermath of the incident," President Xi said.

Anxiety is running high in China. Yesterday's crash came less than a week after 33 people were killed by 10 knife-wielding assailants in Kunming railway station in a coordinated terror attack. This was blamed on separatists from the province of Xinjiang.

The 227 plane passengers included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans. Jessie Yee Wai Ching was supposed to be on board the flight but missed it after getting the wrong departure time. She told the Malaysian television channel Astro Awani: "I feel blessed and like I'm the lucky one, but it still doesn't overcome the awful feeling that I have for the people on that flight. I believe I've been given a second chance."

The arrivals board at Beijing The arrivals board at Beijing Chinese media reports were highly critical of the airline for waiting hours to say the plane was missing and not holding a news conference for almost 13 hours after the plane went off the radar. Relatives complained about the slow flow of information. "They're treating us worse than dogs," said one. There were reports that the plane had crashed into waters off Vietnam's southern Phu Quoc Island, which were subsequently rejected.

Malaysia Airlines has a good safety record, as does the 777, which had not had a fatal crash in its 19-year history until an Asiana Airlines plane crashed in San Francisco in 2013, killing three passengers. "Boeing offers its deepest concern to the families of those aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370," said the company in a statement. "Boeing is assembling a team to provide technical assistance to investigating authorities."

Lost at sea

Yesterday's mysterious downing of an airliner was compared to a crash in June 2009, when Air France Flight 447, an Airbus 300, travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, crashed into the Atlantic killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew. The flight disappeared mid-ocean, beyond radar coverage and in total darkness, causing Air France to take six hours to concede its loss. No other airliner has vanished so completely in modern times. A report in 2012 found that a combination of technical faults and human error led to the crash. Heavy turbulence caused air-speed sensors to malfunction while the captain was taking a rest break and the plane began to stall. Investigators finally discovered the debris in 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable